(Printed in July/August CAMFT online magazine)
Shamanic Counseling (as conceived by Michael Harner of the Foundation of Shamanic Studies) is a six-session methodology for clients interested in learning how to conduct shamanic journeys on their own behalf for support and wisdom. Journeying with the sound of the drum is considered by the Foundation of Shamanic Studies as “core shamanism”: underlying near-universal shamanic principles and practices. By not imitating any specific cultural tradition, but rather by emphasizing the underlying cross-cultural principles, this practice is suited for non-indigenous practitioners who desire a relatively culture-free system that we can adopt, integrate into our contemporary lives, and have a way of relating personally to our spirit helpers. Looking at them as archetypes, in the vein of transpersonal psychology, they would be considered aspects of our inner most wise person. Shamanic journeying is not faith-based, but experience based. No specific religion or spiritual belief system is necessary to experience the benefits of this practice, which makes it a perfect adjunct to psychotherapy, or a complete process on it’s own.
Before fully diving into the topic of Shamanic Counseling and how it can serve someone who is interested in tapping into deep wisdom in this way, I’m compelled to glimpse into the recent upsurge in alternative healing modalities. I’d also like to posit that some psychotherapists are beginning to inhabit the role of the western version of the shamanic healer. Since much of what we do is talk therapy, we know there is much power in words (and dreams and hopes and body sensations). It’s important to look at the origin of how our profession is named. “Psychotherapy” has it’s roots in ancient Greek: “psyche” meaning soul/spirit/breath and “therapia” meaning healing. We are healers of the soul.
The human species is speeding ahead with technological, scientific, and medical advances and making the world a “global village” with internet being ever present in even the smallest towns around the world. Yet, there are a growing number of people who are interested in and feel the benefit of ways of life adopted from our ancestors. This is evidenced by the advent of the Slow Food Movement and sharing economies, as well as more people turning to Earth-based spirituality, raising chickens and growing their own vegetables, practicing yoga and mindfulness, and the rise of DIY projects in lieu of buying something pre-packaged.
We’re also seeing this evolution of consciousness in the rise of alternative healing modalities. While many energy healing practices are considered “new age,” the origins of the movement are adaptations of ancient ways. Most energy healers have honed the skill of tuning into subtle energy fields in order to tap into the information and wisdom that resides there. By first becoming conscious of the subtle field, practitioners and clients can begin to shift the subtle energies to make choices that lead to a fuller and more satisfying life.
I believe that most psychotherapists are already attuned to the subtle energies. We observe and track, we intuit, we’re interested in what is not fully conscious, we’re open to discovering that which was there before but was previously unknown, we help clients attune to their inner (more subtle) states, and support clients to have more choice and power in their lives. Much like a tracker, who is attuned to nature’s rhythms and uses the art and science of observing animal tracks, we follow patterns that lead to a greater understanding of what’s driving the behavior. We also act as an Intuitive. We do this by attending to our own sensations, gut feelings, and sudden insights (the last two definitely residing in the category of subtle energy). We’re curious about all that is reported by our clients, as well as the unknown and unspoken realms of our client’s experience. We also support our clients to do their own investigative work by making inquiries that will support fuller states of consciousness of their own process. Supporting clients to step into their personal power in balanced ways is a core component to healing.
And the Shamanic Counselor supports the client to access their most wise, intuitive, loving self for knowledge and support with journeying, while the psychotherapist supports the client with the integration of mind, body, and psyche/spirit/soul through the journey of the therapeutic process.
Please stay tuned in the next CAMFT newsletter for more information about Shamanic Counseling, it’s applications for healing, and similarities to transpersonal therapeutic interventions.
Diana Halfmann, MFT (MFC 45031) provides Play, Filial, Family and Psychotherapy in her private practice in San Francisco. She also provides Shamanic Counseling to individuals interested in conducting their own shamanic journeys for wisdom and clarity. (415) 857-3901. www.DianaHalfmann.com
There exists many differing opinions about New Year’s resolutions ranging from: “Of course I make goals for the New Year…and keep them,” or “…and already forgot them,” to “Why bother? Gregorian calendar, whatever.”
Since we tend to strive towards some “better” way of being, most of us promise publicly, or quietly to ourselves (lest we fail) to do more of the “good stuff” and less of the “bad stuff.” We often look towards some end goal and wind up chastising ourselves for choosing Netflix over Zumba, eating that second pastry, not focusing enough on completing our personal projects, or focusing too much on Facebook….yet again.
I invite you to contemplate this: our process, our being-ness, or how we move through our lives is what deserves the most attention. We might get to our end goals by fitting more in our schedules and checking off more from our ‘to do’ lists (yes, I have several). But at what expense? Were we content, and compassionate, hell, even fulfilled in the process? Did we complete our list in lieu of spending quality play time with our children? Did we pause enough along the way to really enjoy eating that salted caramel ice cream or did we tune out and scarf it down because if we were to really savor it, we might actually feel the guilt? Are we taking moments to look within about what may best serve us? Are we compassionate to the people we encounter along the way? Did we slow down enough to acknowledge how amazing the people are around us or how grateful we are for the natural world and for the Earth sustaining us?
And these questions lead me to ponder even deeper: if we were to slow down first, do we then become more compassionate and grateful? Or does being more compassionate allow us to feel an innate sense of joy, whereby making us less concerned about doing so much?
If we, instead, we resolve to invite in expansion, a deeper connection with our intuition, appreciation of the little joys (and maybe even the challenges), more checking in, instead of checking out and contraction around what we want, need, or must do, we will soon feel the joy of being alive. And then, we just might feel more inspired to move more naturally towards accomplishing that ‘to do’ list.
The idea of play as an avenue to gain a fresh perspective, to try out new ways of being, and of course to have fun in the process, has come into my mind a lot lately. In part due to the nature of my work providing play therapy to children, as play is their first language. Play is the primary way that children communicate and express themselves—using symbol, imagination, and spontaneous action, they give us an indication of what their inner world is like. Adults also benefit greatly from adding play into their daily diet. It helps us practice being more spontaneous, creative, free flowing, and shift our sometime static sense of ourselves.
This brings me to another reason why play has been permeating my thoughts: Spring! This season whispers to (and sometimes screams at) us to consider it’s pervasive theme: creativity. Spring’s creative forces are all around us, which earth makes manifest by the shoots and flowers bursting forth out of our garden. It’s a good time to start a new endeavor, make art, reinvent ourselves, create and nurture life in all of its manifestations.
This concept of play has been imbuing my psyche so thoroughly that when someone suggested an improvisation class to feel more comfortable speaking in public, I had a visceral response which prompted me to sign up for a course two days later. Improv sounded like a dynamic and playful way to explore and unpack this stuckness.
In the class, we play games. When we think of games, there is usually some sort of inherent competition. But instead, these games are designed to encourage us to slow down our analytical minds, to bring ourselves completely to the present moment, to let ourselves fail (celebrate that we tried and move forward), to listen well, to be responsive, and to add on to what others are saying. (You might have heard: “Yes, and…” is more inclusive, collaborative, and moves things forward faster than “No”).
Ah ha! These maxims of improvisation can be used for not only for speaking to an audience, but for successful communication and a thriving life. A life where we tap into our creativity regularly, where moment-to-moment awareness is more important than our past stories, where we don’t let fear get in the way of us trying out new activities and behaviors, and where we get to experience the rewards of working together.
These ways of being are at the root of mindfulness practice: truly living in the present without our stories of our past or fears of our future, rejecting nothing, inviting in our feelings and sensations and being present with them yet not attaching ourselves to the outcome. When we are immersed in the moment, we experience a flow and live in a fuller way. Because really, life is improv.